Britain leaves its Eritrean community at the mercy of government extortion

The Eritean community in the UK faces a relentless campaign to pay taxes both to the Eritrean government and to its armed forces on income they earn in Britain.

The British government is ignoring the threats and demands being made by the Eritean government on its countrymen and women living in Britain. The Eritean community in the UK faces a relentless campaign to pay taxes both to the Eritrean government and to its armed forces on income they earn in Britain. The money raised it used, in part, to fund the activities of the Eritrean government in undermining other government in the Horn of Africa. According to the 2011 census, there are 17,300 Eritreans living in England and Wales.

A United Nations report plus documents from the Eritrean community in Britain provides evidence of the activities undertaken by agents of the state, many of them operating from the Eritrean embassy in London. This, despite British nominal support for action to end this extortion, and assurances from the Foreign Office that action has been taken to end the practice.

The UN report by a team of expert – led by the Canadian Africa expert Matt Bryden – laid out in chilling detail the range of methods being used by the Eritrean authorities to extract funds from the diaspora.

Without proof that a two per cent tax on all income has been paid, Eritrean passports are not renewed, visas are not issues, businesses not permitted and money cannot be transferred to relatives.

This is a case from the UK, cited by the UN Monitors.

Mr. “K” left Eritrea in 2000 and established himself in the UK. In 2007, the business licence of his parents’ import-export company in Asmara expired. When the family applied to renew their business licence, the authorities in (the Eritrean capital) Asmara stipulated that in order to obtain approval, their son needed to acquit himself of the 2 per cent diaspora tax payment. When his family contacted Mr. K. he replied that he did not want to pay and his parents renounced him as a member of his family in order to obtain the license, creating a longstanding rift in the family.

The UN Security Council condemned these practices three years ago. Britain voted in favour of resolution 2023 of 2011, which “condemned the diaspora tax”, “demanded” that Eritrea ended it and called on all states to ensure that it ceased.

The UN report says it has received assurances from the Foreign Office that action has been taken to end these practices.

On 20 May 2011, the Government of the United Kingdom notified the Eritrean authorities that, since aspects of the collection of the two per cent tax may be unlawful and in breach of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, until it was demonstrated otherwise, the Eritrean embassy should suspend, immediately and in full, all activities relating to the collection of the tax.

Yet there is evidence that the practice continues to this day. Members of the Eritrean diaspora living in Britain have told the New Statesman that the taxes continue to be demanded from them. Although they are concerned to remain anonymous, the New Statesman has a document showing the payment of the tax dated October 2012, more than a year after the Foreign Office issued its warning to the Eritrean ambassador.

 

 

The translation of the receipt reads:

Per the information we received from you, we confirm that the above sum has been credited into our account and we are enclosing the credit advice. Please complete the transaction in accordance with the procedures, entering it into the database and also the government account system.

Victory to the Masses!

Berhane Yemane

Head of Mission Accounts

Elsa Chyrum, an Eritrean human rights activist, says the Eritrean Government and party agents have since resumed tax collection across the United Kingdom.

Selam Kidane, an Eritrean working with the diaspora agrees. She says the authorities have just altered their strategy: “Following pressure from the British government the Embassy simply changed their collection method. Now most of the collection is done in Asmara, but the amount required is still the same.” “This puts a lot of pressure on families with limited means,” she says.

While the British government fails to halt this abuse, others have acted. In May the Canadian government expelled the Eritrean envoy.

"Canada has taken steps to declare persona non grata Mr Semere Ghebremariam O Micael, consul and head of the Eritrean Consulate General in Toronto, effective immediately," Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said in a statement.

But in London the Eritrean embassy continues to operate, unaffected by UN sanctions, or the ineffectual threats from the Foreign Office.

An Eritrean demonstrator waves his national flag during a demonstration on Whitehall in 2012. The protesters were demanding that Britain stops selling arms to Ethiopia. Photo: Getty

Martin Plaut is a fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London. With Paul Holden, he is the author of Who Rules South Africa?

Sean Rayford/Getty Images
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United States of Emergency: will the North Carolina riots stain Obama's legacy?

The latest flare up of violence in the US is a reminder that the election of the first black president did not herald a new age of post-racial harmony.

Last April I travelled to Baltimore the morning after the Governor of Maryland had declared a state of emergency in the city, following riots that erupted after the death of Freddie Gray in police custody. Time had just published a poignant article comparing images of disorder on America's streets in 2015 with those 50 years earlier, during the struggles of the civil rights era. However, the scene that greeted my companion and I as we looped round the I-95 into the inner harbour looked more like photos we had seen of Helmand in 2001, or Mosul in 2003. Except this wasn't Baghdad, it was Baltimore – the birthplace of Edgar Allen Poe, Babe Ruth and The Star Spangled Banner. And yet it was clearly a warzone, for how else could you explain the presence of 4,000 national guardsmen, either poking out of armoured vehicles or patrolling the streets with automatic weapons?

During the protests that have erupted in Charlotte, and elsewhere, following the shooting of yet another black man by the police, US Attorney General Loretta Lynch has warned against this kind of violence becoming the “new normal”. As North Carolina governor Pat McCrory declared a state of emergency on Thursday morning, the horrible truth was that the normalcy of it all was plain to see. Such is the frequency with which riot police and even soldiers have been deployed on America's streets over the past few years, that the “United States of Emergency” would not seem like an inaccurate rebranding. Of course all of this civil disobedience plays into the hands of a Republican presidential candidate who is making the restoration of “law and order” one of the central tenets in his bid for power.

It is not hard to see the desperation on Obama's face as he reaches the denouement of his own tenure. While the 44th President's political legacy will be debated for years to come, it is now obvious that one thing it did not herald was a new era of post-racial harmony. America's obsession with symbolism almost willed him to the White House but as so often is the case with US politics: the higher the pretensions, the harder the fall. 

Charlotte doesn't represent anything particularly unique in this long struggle against police racism. It's just another place name to be added to Ferguson, Baton Rouge, St. Paul and dozens of others that could form a particularly grim tourist trail. The horrible truth is that as long as there have been black men in America – especially in places like Charlotte – they have always been unfairly targeted by police. For decades in the South these same forces were the “thin white line” promulgating a form of apartheid against the black majority. The difference now is that 21st century technology allows witnesses to capture and disseminate proof of this worldwide. The power of images to expose racial violence is unquestionable. The campaigner Mamie Till, mother of Emmett, knew this when she published photos of her son's mutilated corpse in 1955. As did George Holliday when he filmed Rodney King's beating in 1991.

There is a kind of despair when it comes to trying to find solutions to America's devastating gun and racial problems. Unfortunately neither presidential candidate seems to offer much hope of significant change. One is perceived as being in thrall to big business (of which the gun lobby represents a significant part) and the other, well, it is not hard to imagine Trump's glee at further proof of how “broken” and disorderly the country is under the Democrats. Both of their reactions to this latest incident have been muted. If either of them care at all about fixing this problem they need to take action and it needs to be drastic. The late comedian Robin Williams once quipped that in Britain the police shout: “Stop! Or I'll shout Stop again”. In America that first “stop” is all too often followed by a much louder sound.

The problem is that whenever a “taskforce” is created to fix the problem – such as Obama's 21st century policing initiative – its recommendations are always non-binding. On top of this is the fact that there are nearly 20,000 distinct police departments in the US representing a myriad of vested interests and demographic differences, and all adhering to slightly different codes of conduct. American police need to revert from a militarised occupying force to a pacific consensual one, perhaps by sending officers out unarmed. Unfortunately the likelihood of this happening with either a Trump, or even Clinton, presidency is sadly close to none. 

Alexis Self is a writer based in New York City.